Interview with Vincent Lawrence, CEO of Imperial Lamian
The River North area of Chicago’s downtown has no shortage of restaurants and eateries. In order to do well in this area, you have to offer a memorable dining experience that keeps people coming back for more.
Imperial Lamian, an authentic and refined Chinese concept, knows how to please as well as offer Asian cuisine in an atmosphere that garners repeat customers and word-of-mouth. Voted the Readers Choice Best Chinese Restaurant in Chicago Magazine, it is staking its claim as a force to be reckoned within the Windy City as well as abroad.
When you step inside the world of Imperial Lamian, you are transported to an area far away filled with spicy herbs, an aroma of flavorfulness, and simple, yet stylish decor. Hanging birdcages and an exotically painted wall await, as the music and vibe sets the mood.
During a busy December evening, Telie and I had the pleasure of visiting the restaurant for the first time. The dining area was filled with guests, and I knew I was in for a treat. I ordered a few items including the Lamb Chops which were the best I have ever had. Topped with an amazing Szechuan sauce, I am still thinking about how good they were!
A few weeks later, I was given the opportunity to sit down with Vincent Lawrence, Partner and CEO of Imperial Lamian, to get his take on everything from their underdog beginning, to their commitment to offering authentic Chinese food, to the future of this growing food powerhouse.
On making a “home” in Chicago:
Once we decided that Chicago was the best location, I started looking for property, and we hit some major roadblocks. People love eating Chinese food, but there’s a certain stigmatism and pre-conceived notion that comes to Chinese cuisine.
I remember I visited a couple of landlords and they would ask me, what type of restaurant are you opening and I told them, and they were like “wait a minute—uh…” (hesitation) in the city. River North. And they asked me if its going to be like a China Town restaurant. P.F Changs.
You can’t blame them, there’s really no benchmark for what we were trying to do.
We hit roadblocks for 3 or 4 months. I talked to my business partner, Abigail in Indonesia, and told her let’s come up with a solid plan. Let’s do videos, let’s do photos, let’s show our vision. Let’s create a marketing piece that can really showcase what we want to do. We adapted the concept to Chicago and what Chicago likes, and kept the concept for the food and flavor.
On offering authentic Chinese cuisine:
No one else is using the technique we use from China and Malaysia (in Chicago). Most of our cooks have been taught to make Chinese food this way. It is what they know.
Back in the day, there were no machines to make noodles, so they used their hands. We are showcasing a handmade technique. It tastes 100% better than machine made. Our noodles have an al dente texture, a springiness you won’t find in machine noodles.
Lamian means hand pulled noodles.
We get a lot of Asian/Chinese demographics. It’s validation of what we are doing in the kitchen. It’s the first time they have tasted something close to home.
Our food is not greasy, we use very little soy, and no MSG. We use a multi-step process in the wok for flavor (fried rice). Every ingredient is cooked at different times then it’s combined at the end so you can taste every single ingredient.
On the Imperial Lamian Experience:
Expect a full experience from when you walk in the door, to the seating, to the wait staff. Our servers are taught to really explain the food.
Servers are ambassadors for Imperial Lamian. They are the eyes and ears. Since I am only one person, I count on them to bring forth the experience. From the dishwasher all the way to my level.
On his favorite dishes:
My favorites here at Imperial Lamian is the Seabass and the Jasmine Tea Ribs. The Seabass is marinated for 24 hours and has wonderful flavor.
On the future of Imperial Lamian:
We would like to expand in Chicago to the suburbs. Then create additional restaurants in the U.S. with an Asian element.
If you are looking for an authentic Asian-inspired experience in an atmosphere that is true to its roots and vision, you must check out Imperial Lamian. With so many awesome flavor combinations and a menu that is far from boring, it’s a great choice.
Imperial Lamian is located at 6 West Hubbard in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. Reservations are preferred. Open for lunch, dinner, and brunch. Private dining is also available. Call (312) 595-9440 for more information.